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How to Translate Dinosaur Names

The Greek Roots Used to Name Dinosaurs

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pachycephalosaurus

Want to translate Pachycephalosaurus into plain English? Here's how (Wikimedia Commons)

If it sometimes seems as if dinosaur names come from another language, well, there's a simple explanation: dinosaur names really do come from another language. Traditionally, paleontologists the world over use Greek to christen new species and genera--not only of dinosaurs, but of birds, mammals, and even microbes. Partly this is convention, but partly it's rooted in common sense: classical Greek has long been a shared language of scholars and scientists.

However, this information may not be of much use if you have to decode a name like Micropachycephalosaurus. The following is a list of the most common Greek words used in dinosaur names, along with their English equivalents. If you want to have some fun, try assembling your own dinosaur from the ingredients below (here's a nonsense example to get you started: Tristyracocephalogallus, or the rare "three-headed spiky chicken.")

Numbers

Mono.....One
Di.....Two
Tri.....Three
Tetra.....Four
Penta.....Five

Body Parts

Brachio.....Arm
Cephalo.....Head
Cerato.....Horn
Cheirus.....Hand
Colepio.....Knuckle
Dactyl.....Finger
Derma.....Skin
Don, dont.....Tooth
Gnathus.....Jaw
Lopho.....Crest
Nychus.....Claw
Ophthalmo.....Eye
Ops.....Face
Physis.....Face
Ptero.....Wing
Pteryx.....Feather
Rhampho.....Beak
Rhino.....Nose
Rhyncho.....Snout
Tholus.....Dome
Trachelo.....Neck

Animal Types

Anato.....Duck
Avis.....Bird
Cetio.....Whale
Cyno.....Dog
Draco.....Dragon
Gallus.....Chicken
Hippus.....Horse
Ichthyo.....Fish
Mus.....Mouse
Ornitho, Ornis.....Bird
Saurus.....Lizard
Struthio.....Ostrich
Suchus.....Crocodile
Taurus.....Bull

Size & Shape

Baro.....Heavy
Brachy.....Short
Macro.....Big
Megalo.....Huge
Micro.....Small
Morpho.....Shaped
Nano.....Tiny
Nodo.....Knobbed
Placo, Platy.....Flat
Sphaero.....Round
Titano.....Giant
Pachy.....Thick
Steno.....Narrow
Styraco.....Spiked

Behavior

Archo.....Ruling
Carno.....Meat-eating
Deino, Dino.....Terrible
Dromeus.....Runner
Gracili.....Graceful
Lestes.....Robber
Mimus.....Mimic
Raptor.....Hunter, Thief
Rex.....King
Tyranno.....Tyrant
Veloci.....Fast

 

Times, Places, & Assorted Features

Antarcto.....Antarctic
Archaeo.....Ancient
Austro.....Southern
Chasmo.....Cleft
Coelo.....Hollow
Crypto.....Hidden
Eo.....Dawn
Eu.....Original, First
Hetero.....Different
Hydro.....Water
Lago.....Lake
Mio.....Miocene
Nycto.....Night
Ovi.....Egg
Para.....Near, Almost
Pelta.....Shield
Plio.....Pliocene
Pro, Proto.....Before
Sarco.....Flesh
Stego.....Roof
Thalasso.....Ocean

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